Thinking about silence

November 28, 2010

I’m thinking about silence in relation to control. Specifically, about vows of silence.

There are two reasons for my thoughts: firstly, it seems obvious that an easy way to control a person is to remove their voice. If your voice can’t be heard, whether literally or metaphorically, then it’s very hard to assert your rights. Many of us have been in situations where we’ve been ignored so we know how frustrating this is: a meeting where someone has refused to listen, a barperson missing us and serving others, a political petition diligently gathered but coming to nothing.
But what about people who choose silence? Those who choose to remove their own voice from the world, perhaps to keep a secret, to still the chatter of everyday life, because of political pressure, or in search of a higher religious experience? We fill our lives with noise, creating it and surrounding ourselves with it – what sort of self-control is required for a person to elect not to add to it?

Secondly, I’ve been thinking about the photographs I take, and about silence within images. My pictures, though often black and white, that classic territory of muteness, are noisy. They’re often of objects rather than peoplle or action, but still the noise and busy-ness jumps out. I’m interested in trying to quieten my images. I’ve been reading about Gerry Badger’s thoughts on ‘quiet photographs’, and I’m not thinking of quietness in the way he describes, of authorial neutrality; rather, I’m aiming to create a sort of calmness within the image. I’m struggling to articulate exactly what it is that I’m looking for but, as the saying goes, I’ll know it when I see it.

I’m keen to use this project as a vehicle for developing some portraits, and for my subject matter, I’ve started looking at who out there might have taken a vow of silence. It seems a little contrary to say I’ve got some phonecalls to make…

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